Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Connecting the Dots: Learning and the Brain

Read any article on brain research and you will find that learning is a two-step process. First, we must identify a pattern and make meaning of it and second, we develop programs to make this new information meaningful so that we can act upon it.  Let me give a real life example.  When my oldest daughter was four, she suddenly began to wet the bed frequently.  My mom brain knew something was wrong, this was out of character-- it didn’t fit the pattern I knew to be true.  We went to the doctor because that felt logical- what my programming told me to do.  When he came back with the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, it literally tipped my world.  Nothing in my past experiences prepared me for this information or what to do next.  Making meaning of all the new information and being able to make choices  based on that information was vital to her life.

Fast forward several years and I’m in a classroom observing students working in a small group.  Two of the students speak no English.  As a watch their confused faces, I flashed back to that time in the hospital.  Those kids must feel like we did!  These sounds coming out of the mouths of those around them have no context, no meaning and understanding them was just as vital to their lives.  I wondered if this teacher supported her students’ learning the way our doctor team had guided my daughter.  I looked for evidence of a welcoming environment, anchor charts, and activities that connected the brain with the body.  I wondered how this teacher knew the students as individuals and if she was responsive to that information when planning her lessons.  How does she create authentic learning experiences?  Does she have the tools to move students from memorizers to critical thinkers?  
8th Grade Conceptual Map
For the past two days, instructional coaches along with some administrators, spent time with representatives from the Center for the Future of Public Instruction learning about the process of Concept  Mapping to support brain-based learning.  Essentially, we took grade level standards and looked for patterns within the key points and skills within the content areas.  As we wrestled with the standards, we were forced to stretch our thinking.  We discovered that curriculum is an ongoing process and  that learning can be messy.  We revisited the importance of inquiry in making meaning.  Perhaps, most importantly, we reaffirmed the value of relationships, both with people and within objects and ideas.  

Concept mapping is a tool that not only supports our district’s big rocks, it connects them.  It solidifies our core instructional practices within MTSS and allows us to create authentic projects using standards as a framework.  The data we glean from our discussions and student evidence continue to shape our instructional practices and contribute to more productive PLCs.   Our two days of work and learning together really just scratched the surface of possibilities.  Don’t we owe it to our students to keep digging?

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